Walking for Mental Health

This week, our amazing associate Jo Goodbody has written a piece about the mental health benefits of walking. Jo is a trainer-facilitator with over 14 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector. She has worked on the frontline, as a manager and as a trainer in the homelessness, violence against women and social care sectors. Jo is passionate about designing and facilitating learning that inspires people to be the best that they can be. Her areas of particular interest are mental health and wellbeing, equality, diversity and inclusion. So, over to Jo…

“I put one foot in front of the other and move forward”

In the past 3 years, I have discovered that walking is one of my most important self-care strategies. During a challenging time in my life, I looked after a friend’s dog for a month. It was a cold, dark January – much like the one we are having now – and I had to take Bonnie out before and after work. Surprisingly, I noticed how much better I felt for these walks, despite the time of year.

That discovery led to me signing up to an ultra-walk challenge, which in turn led to me walking as much as possible in the coming months to train for the big event. The whole experience changed my perspective in unexpected ways. Here are the top gifts that walking regularly has given me:

Natural highs
After any walk, but especially after longer walks, I feel euphoric and “buzzing”, a feeling which settles into a contented warm glow. The science behind this feeling is well documented – when we exercise endorphins are released, which trigger positive feelings and reduce our perception of pain. I also feel more energised after walking. I have noticed that I am much more tired and lethargic when I have not walked for a while.

A sense of control
Life can be chaotic at times, and much happens that is out of our control. This can leave us feeling confused, disoriented and uncertain. Walking gives me back a sense of control. I put one foot in front of the other and move forward. I choose how long I walk for, where and when I walk. I walk for me, because it helps me to feel better. I give myself time, space and purpose when I walk.

Walking is a brilliant way to connect with others. I have some of my most meaningful conversations when I am out walking with friends and family. Even on solo walks, I find connection with other people through small exchanges. Walking fosters connection, which builds community, which is how we survive and thrive as humans.

The beauty of simplicity
Whilst walking in both countryside and city, I notice the simple things. Like how animals are quite contented to just do their own thing. Birds singing. How much I like the smell of wild garlic. Bluebells in the woods, daffodils by the road side. The diversity of housing, life, people and activities along the banks of the river Thames. There is so much that is beautiful, wild and creative out there. It co-exists alongside decay, ruin and loss – as it does in our lives. Sometimes we are so focused on what we haven’t got that we forget about what we do have. Beauty in nature and in our cities is all around us, and it’s free.

I encourage you to go out for a walk this week and start to notice how it makes you feel. Then let us at Bird know.

If you would like to explore the positive impact of walking on your mental health, join one of my Urban hikes for mental health in London by signing up on Eventbrite.

There are currently a limited number of Early Bird tickets available with 15% off the usual price, and I am also offering two free tickets per hike for people who are unemployed or on low wages (under £10 an hour in London) who feel they would benefit from these events. If this is you, please email me on jogoodbody@gmail.com briefly stating your circumstances and why you would like to come to an urban hike for mental health.

I highly recommend taking Jo up on the offer, she took me on a gorgeous long walk a short while ago and I felt amazing for it.

And if you know of colleagues working in the not-for-profit, public or social enterprise sectors please forward this post and invite them to sign up (by clicking this link) for regular insights on how to stay well whilst doing supportive work.

With love, Hannah and Team Bird

Image by Tim Gouw unsplash.com

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